If you thought casino’s and beautiful cultural Portuguese remnants was all Macau offered, think again. From now until November 20th 2016, MGM Macau is showcasing famous Impressionist artist Edgar Degas‘ iconic Figures in Motion exhibition.
For the first time in Asia, a collection of 74 bronze sculptures by Degas is being shown to the public. This collection is a posthumous effort by Abert Bartholome, who cast the original wax, plaster and clay figures in bronze metal to immortalise Degas’ hidden masterpieces. Regarded as the father of Impressionism, Degas was intrigued by the human figure and its movements, particularly that of women, as well as horses. Though he considered himself more of an independent or realist, like many Impressionists in the late 1800’s, his artworks explored modern life and depicted indoor middle class leisure and activity in the city.
However, Degas was unusual in his approaches, rejecting the contemporary tendencies employed by Impressionists; valuing lines over colour and surface texture in order to build a picture’s compositional structure. Whilst Impressionists drew from rural countryside scenery and natural outdoor light (en plein air), Degas was more content with working from sketches and memory; exploring modern urban life and how light and shade behave on the moving body.
Degas’ unique style was shaped by his academic and early artistic training. Originally studying law at the wish of his father, Degas’ interest in art remained steadfast from young and his law career was quickly left behind. Drawing lines to lend solid form to paintings was a key teaching of his mentor, Jean Auguste Dominique. The French painter later enrolled in Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he picked up the style of Ingres. In the following years, Degas would achieve the techniques of “high, academic, and classical art” (Le French May, 2016).
In the early 1860’s, the beauty and intrigue of physical forms and movement, first made its mark on Degas when he saw horses whilst visiting childhood friend Paul Valpincon in Normandy. Later, he made multiple visits to the Longchamp racetracks and studied horses in motion. Degas even took up photography in an attempt to better understand motion in nature. This was spurred on when he saw British photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s sensational invention of the zoopraxiscope which depicted a horse’s movement through motion-sequence still photography.
Degas’ earlier fascination with horses were a prelude to his shift to human movement, specifically in dancing figures -work for which he is most renowned for. In the exhibition, look out for the two horse sculptures with all four feet hovering above the ground as if they are floating. These two are iconic overtures for Degas’ floating dancing figures. Like with sketching, painting and photography, Degas began sculpting with wax, clay and plaster as a way to give dimension to his study of movement.
In this exhibition, the audience gets to peek into boudoirs, visit the horse races, and take a wander backstage at the Opera House in Paris. Figures in Motion separates three themes of sculptures into semi-separated areas, for horses, dancers and women in boudoirs. Rare busts and a bas relief are also displayed. Walking from one area to the next you are constantly surrounded by the bronze sculptures, all in various forms and under various angles of light, almost like putting Degas’ sculptures back into his own paintings and drawings.
The female body was a central focus of Degas -to which he sought to represent in an unidealised fashion. Degas’ work was considered more controversial than the impressionist artists at the time. In his sketches, drawings and sculptures, he would articulate an unorthodox view inside a woman’s intimate boudoir; taking “women in various stages of washing and drying themselves” (Le French May, 2016) from a distance, so viewers feel like they are peeking into the boudoir instead.
Degas’ muses were very often low to middle-class women who sought refuge from poverty through ballet. Frequent visits to the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris took Degas’ constant attention: he would sketch dancers on stage and backstage in moments of performance and privacy. In the exhibition, each bronze figurine depicts these moments: from dressing and stretching to adjusting corsage straps and relaxing. Repetition of postures and movement dynamics are rife in his sculptures, yet each sculpture retains its individuality under the light.
The central figure-piece of the exhibition has to be The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. What makes this sculpture so outstanding is the story behind it. The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer marked Degas’ introduction of ‘ready-made materials’ to modern sculpture, a method that was to become popular in the future. The sculpture itself was completely against the norms of artistic creation at that time; it was complete realism. Totally archaic and unconventional, the dancer is resting at fourth position, but with her arms behind her back like a stiff mannequin. There is evident rigidity, a strong symmetry from the waist up and parallel arms, a contrast to the traditional elegant and fluid forms ballet dance is renowned for.
The original wax sculpture wore a real bodice, stockings, shoes, tulle skirt and horsehair wig with a satin ribbon. The bronze statuette in this exhibition features a tulle skirt and a satin ribbon. The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer was first exhibited in 1881 in a glass case to allow viewers to see four angles of the sculpture under the light. It received an overwhelmingly negative reaction by the conservative majority of art critics and the public who deemed the work brutish. Degas decided to never publicly exhibit any of his sculptures in his lifetime and these works became hidden secrets for decades, until now. Making this current exhibition in Macau a treat for those interested in the story of the misunderstood artist.
Visit Edgar Degas’ Figures in Motion exhibition at MGM Macau, Avenida Dr. Sun Yat Sen, NAPE, Macau.References
MGM China Holdings Limited (2016). MEDIA RELEASES: MGM HOSTS OPENING CEREMONY OF EDGAR DEGAS: FIGURES IN MOTION [Online]. Available at: http://en.mgmchinaholdings.com/media-releases?item=90 [Accessed 19/9/16]